The Name in Stone

   
The Name in Stone

Derek was easy to find. He always was, no matter what he did to prevent it. Everyone knew him on sight, a feat as he didn't look as impressive as his deeds. Kaitlyn took the time to study him across the market, watched him haggling with the merchant. He held a small broach in his hand, obscuring everything but the thin golden chain. Not for him, then. A woman?

Unlikely.

His wounds still showed on the surface, scabbed over, but present. She felt a small sharp pang go through her, and reveled in it. There'd been a time not long ago when the feeling hadn't been there. Strange how one could miss pain.

He broke off, tucked the pendant away after passing some coin over to the smiling man. From what Kaitlyn could tell, Derek had just gotten swindled; from the look on his face as he turned toward her, he knew and just didn't care.

She waited a moment, then fell into step next to him. "Derek, I thought we might talk."

Derek glanced down at her, then looked again. "Of course," he said, gesturing to the side. Benches sat facing a fountain, jumping stone fish forever trying to get to the top. Fitting, she thought.

They sat, neither saying a word.

"I've looked," Derek said at last, the frustration boiling out of him. "I swear to you, I have. Apparently, I can only find creatures that want to be found; can only kill-"

"Peace,"
she said, reaching over and putting a hand on his arm. His muscle tensed, like he was preparing to be struck. Fair, considering their last meeting. "I know that Dravin still lives. I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me, but that's not why I wanted to see you." Kaitlyn swiveled towared him, her hand staying on his arm. "I was unfair to you. I spoke from a place of darkness and pain, and I'd already begun cutting myself off from those around me. I know that you care. You cared enough to go to Simon, though I can't imagine how it cost you."

Distant pain echoed in Derek's eyes, and he looked away. "It wasn't a comfort."

"It was to me, after I came to myself. You're a good man, Derek. A bit of a fool at times, but still."


That made him smile, though it was sad. "I'll remember that, or try. I have to take everyone back today. You, too, unless you want to stay here longer. Sel might be thankful of the company. Journey... he never came. No one can tell why, or where he is. Not even the Waymakers here."

"It's not the first time he's taken a trip."

"No, I suppose not."


Kaitlyn took a breath, then stood and pulled him up. Gently, she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him, tightly. Again, he tensed, but this time he relaxed against her, and hugged her back. "I should have told you this then," she said, soft enough that her words were almost lost in splashing of the fountain. "Cady didn't reject you, not truly. The future you offered was less than the one Braiden does. She choose the palace instead of the exile."

He didn't answer for long enough that Kaitlyn almost thought he didn't hear the words. "I know," he said, finally. "I won't lie and say that I'm over it, but I will be. In time." Chuckling, he pulled away and grinned down at her. "At least, I'm over it enough that I won't drop him into the ocean on accident."

She laughed. "I'll let you go to it, then. And Derek, should you need a haven, or a hug, my door is always open to you and yours."

"Thank you. If... if you don't mind me asking, what changed? What took the anger and pain away?"

"Oh, Derek. It's not gone, not really. I think it'll always be a part of me, a part of my future. It just doesn't need to be the only thing I feel, or the only thing in my heart. I still miss him, especially at night, and I wish he was here to be the father my son needs."

"Does he have a name?"

"Not yet. I'll name him on his first Naming Day. You could come, if you'd like."

"I'd like that."
He smiled and hugged her again. "Thank you, Kaitlyn. And I still haven't given up. I'll find Dravin, and I'll end him. Like I promised."

~*~

The group that gathered by the beach wasn't a small one, especially considering that one man was going to whisk them away. Aislin stood, noticing the brittle texture that still existed among some in the group. Amanda stayed near Toby and the three chattering children, and while she laughed, it never reached her eyes - eyes that stayed elsewhere.

She followed the gaze, then rolled her eyes.

The plan, from what she'd heard, was to get Cady and Braiden back to Katar, then take the next group to Shallon City. From what Derek said, he could only teleport a number of times a day, and it changed every day. Today, it was twice - who knew tomorrow. Aislin'd get back to the Tower, but she wasn't in a hurry to do so.

"Alright, everyone get together," Derek said, his voice calm and measured. At the sound of it, her stomach tightened enough to make her scowl. When the power swept her off her feet, the scowl stayed.

~*~

The Helminite camp had changed since the last time Sam had visited. It was larger, somehow, and from here, she could see that while some progress had been made on the ruins, it was slow and slight. Something must be delaying them.

Derek's shoulders sagged a little, and he looked as tired as he must have felt. "Alright folks, end of the line today. Stick around here until someone tells you where they want you to sleep."

Aislin tilted her head. "You're not staying?"

"No, not in camp. I'll be out, a little ways. Close, but..."


Toby snorted, rolled back on his heels. "We'll stick with you, then. Don't need a tent, anyhow. Not when you've got feathers."

"I don't have feathers,"
Amanda pointed out.

"Don't you? Huh."

Their arrival pulled attention, and it wasn't long before a Helminite approached Sam, and saluted. "Welcome back, Chosen Samantha. Do you have a message to dispatch?"

Sam hugged Cady goodbye whether she liked it or not, and then braced herself for another transport. Her horse simply stood by her side as if nothing were happening, and she laughed internally at the calm, dumb animal. She relaxed and smiled at the sight of Shallon. It was less the sight than the feel, not that anybody else would know that, but she could sense the warmth or a thousand invisible torches coming from the city and it felt good.

She returned the salute. "Please let the Supreme Commander know that I've returned and will come see him shortly. Thank you." Once he had left she turned to her Helmenite companions. They'd had three days of lying on a beach relaxing, so she didn't feel bad asking them to do a little work. "Shelton, would you please look into accomodations for anyone who needs them. Bree, please let Johan know that I'll find him when I finish with Kaidan. I would really appreciate it if you'd all do one more thing for me. Once you've all settled back in, if you wouldn't mind doing some circulating to catch up on six months of gossip, I'd like to be filled in at dinner if there's anything important." Yes, she was going to use her friends as spies. "Okay, everyone who's staying with us, follow Shelton so he knows how much room to prepare."

With that she walked over to Derek. "I get it. I'll ask about Adye when I speak with Kaidan. Still be careful out there." She left him with a hug before taking Skyy's reigns and heading toward Kaindan's tent.

The soldier saluted Sam, then trotted off toward the center of camp.

Shelton nodded, his eyes flickering over the group as he took a mental count. "Don't worry, I'll make sure they're all comfortable. And together."

The others murmured agreement with Sam's request, then started to drift into the camp, separating to get about their gossip gathering.

"When am I not careful?" Derek asked, then elbowed Toby sharply. "Don't answer that."

Over with the others, Jasper rolled his shoulders. The last time he'd been in a camp like this, he'd had to run from the soldiers a few times. Course, it also gave him his first glimpse of Ruve's bare legs. Good times. "I'll set up a bit of security when we get our spot. No need to be sloppy about things."

Near Derek, Aislin's ears perked up.

Ravan

Ravan looked around at the camp, his expression carefully neutral. He personally respected Helm's followers, but he was intensely aware of being in the camp of a foreign power - not necessarily a hostile one at the moment, but still foreign. While Ravan himself was perhaps more cosmopolitan in his thinking than most Jameans, there still remained the fact that he was a devout worshipper of Daivat - and these were Helmites.

Ravan listened carefully, trying to sense the mood of the camp in the same way that a spider sensed the vibrations in a web. There was always a certain energy to a military camp that reflected the mood of the people in it - and more than that. In a disciplined fighting force, the men and women in it were more than just individuals, they were part of a greater whole that had a mind of its own. He smiled slightly at the thought. "Reminds me somewhat of my time in the service." He commented quietly, to no one in particular.

"Glad I never had to do any of that rubbish," Jasper said cheerfully. "Course, only about fifteen percent of my class survived the Academy, so maybe I would've prefered the military."

Near Derek, with her back toward the trapsmith, Aislin started to smirk.

~*~

The Helminite camp, at least, was familiar. All camps were familiar, laid out in the same map that only grudgingly yeilded to the terrain. While the work on Shallon City was obvious chaotic, the camp stayed in perfect order. Sam could also notice that while no one challenged her on her trek across the camp, quite a few soldiers obviously checked her out, and saluted when they recognized her. Security wasn't as lax as it could be, then.

All the soldiers appeared tired and haggard, as if they were being overworked or slept poorly - or both. Kaidan, at least, appeared that way when Sam walked into his tent. He sat in full armor at a large table, his helmet resting on a stand near his bedroll. "Samantha, it's good to see you again," he said with a weary smile, getting to his feet and offering her a hand. "How have you been?"

"Very well," Sam took the hand and smiled back. "Everyone here looks like hell though. Shall we skip the pleasantries and move on to why?"

"Been a rough few months," he said with a wry grin, gesturing her towards a chair before sinking back heavily in his own. "If you're staying for longer than a day, you'll find out why personally. It's dreams - damn nightmares. I've been a soldier all my life, Samantha, and I've never seen their like. They grip you, hold you down in sleep like you're drowning, and when you wake, it's like you were fighting all night. Currently, I'm sending the men away from here in shifts, get some rest, and talk to someone about what they saw.

"I don't want to sound alarmist, but it strikes me as more than the dreams of those who survived the demons. To make matters worse, the men all say that they see ghosts and shades in the ruins of Shallon City. Things keep going wrong - very wrong, and if I send too few men into the city, they don't come out again."
He sighed, sounding as tired as he looked. "Some are talking about packing up and moving, leaving this place to whatever evil has clung here."

Sam sat and listened. She pursed her lips a few times and waited a bit before responding quietly. "I wish that you had called me back. No use fretting about it now though. I'll gather a friend or two and have a look. The best thing you could do to help with that would be to pull everyone out of the city while we check it out. Give me a few days, and if there's nothing to be done about this, then we'll discuss leaving outright."

There was no reason to harp on the subject, so she changed it. "So, is there any good news, or would you rather hear about my very unexciting trip?"

Ravan

Ravan nodded. "We have a similar issue in the Denavashor - young people new to their power are almost always overconfident with it. And most of our instructors believe that overconfidence is a 'kill or cure' disease."

Kaiden paused thoughtfully before he answered. "If you'd check out the ruins, that might be best. You have a more varied experience than I do, in these matters.

"As far as good news goes, we've had precious little of it. But, there is some. Despite all of our losses, and all of our set-backs, and the nightmares, the men remain in good spirits. There's hope in the camp, Samantha. That it exists at all fills me with awe, if I can be frank. We have good people here; very good."
He grinned, leaned back. "That's what I have. Tell me about your trip."




 

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